NEW DELHI — As a tattoo needle runs down her wrist, an image of angel wings and the word “dad”, Rakshita Gupta, a designer of home furnishings, remembers her father, who died two months ago from COVID- 19, means her and her sister.
“He taught us to be independent, he taught us to be brave, he gave us all the freedom we needed, he taught me everything I knew,” said Gupta with a shudder as he headed to a tattoo studio, Inc. I was sitting with my sister. in the Indian capital. “At the same time, he was the most pampered parent in the world.”
The Gupta families were among thousands of families who lost their loved ones during the fierce second wave of the pandemic in New Delhi in April and May.
Some family members could not spend their last moments with husband, wife, brothers, sisters or parents as they struggled in the hospital. Some watched as their loved one succumbed to the virus while they scrambled to find a hospital bed and oxygen. She was alone in the farewell funeral grounds.
And some are now lamenting their loss at tattoo studios, which have been experiencing a growing demand for memorial tattoos since they reopened after a lockdown.
Tattoo artists say that for most, their memorial tattoo is their first tattoo – like the Gupta sisters. Tattoos vary from names, signatures and pictures of loved ones to words, phrases and images that carry personal meaning.
The Gupta sisters chose angel wings because they see their father as an angel.
“Our way of getting it out is how much we are missing him,” said accountant Aakriti Gupta. “We make him feel, that he is with us all the time.”
For Rakshita Gupta, who had come from Dubai to visit her family when her father was ill, the tattoo is a confirmation that her very loving parents are with her.
“I don’t know how to live without him,” she said, “and I thought I wanted him to be with me.”
Tattoo studios in India have seen a rapid growth in their business over the past decade, with younger, more affluent people looking to body art as an “expression of their personality”.
Now these studios are mitigating the impact of the pandemic. Artists say they have never spent so much time conceptualizing memorial tattoos. There have been more than 400,000 deaths from the coronavirus in India and more than half of them occurred during the second wave since March.
Memorial tattoos require extreme sensitivity, says Max, owner of Inkin Studio, which engraves the Secret Sisters.
“Tattoos are like the soul you carry on your sleeve. At times it can be painful, at times it can be memorable,” he said.
He advises his clients to choose visible places like arms and wrists only when they are ready to face the questions of a lifetime.
“If the tattoo easily catches other people’s eyes, they will always ask you questions and you will have to go through that pain over and over again,” the former investment banker told the tattoo artist.
As tattoo needles pierce the skin, grief and suffering are often shared.
“Sometimes they open their hearts, sometimes I just talk to them and know what they’re doing,” Max said. “As an artist you have to be very empathetic.”
At Devil’s Tattoos, another tattoo studio, owner Lokesh Verma is creating a touching tattoo: “She lived for the people she loved and remembers those she loved.” He is designing it for a client who has lost his wife.
“I almost broke down hearing his story,” he said.
Verma has seen the demand for tattoos rise from five a month when he started inking customers nearly two decades ago, to over 20 a day.
“Body art is certainly an acceptable way to express who you are now or what you feel,” he said, including sadness.
He compares memorial tattoos to medicine, doing his bit to heal a city where many have suffered.
“Most people who are so afraid of pain, when they get a memorial tattoo done, they don’t even feel the pain as much because they are thinking of the person they have lost,” Verma said. “So, it’s like therapy for them, going through this whole ritual of pain and then seeing their image or their signature or their writing on their skin.”
It could be true. Aakriti Gupta is planning to get another tattoo done in memory of her father.
“I always admired his signature, so that’s what I wish for another,” she said.